COOPER LANDING, Alaska — After spending the first half of this Alaskan adventure in the north, in the Fairbanks area, I headed south a couple of days ago for the second half of the trip.
The past few days have been busy.
Thursday was the final day of the OWAA conference. We had a board of directors meeting in the morning and then a final afternoon of conference programming.
At the board meeting I was officially elected president of the organization, after having moved up the officer ladder the past few years.
It was a bit of a strange thing as I’ve been acting president for a few months because our current president was ill. That status remained after he passed away in August.
I’ve been an active volunteer for a number of years because I really believe in who we are and what we do.
My friends Kraig Cesar and Cliff Bruner from Virginia Beach arrived at Chena Hot Springs Resort on Thursday afternoon.
The plan was for the three of us to head to the Kenai Peninsula the next day while my travel partners from the first half of the trip went on a trip to a fishing lodge.
Friday, we left Chena, stopping along the road to shoot photos of a cow moose. (I have been trying to upload the photo, and several others, with no success. I will try again later but want to at least get this post up.) Then made it to Denali National Park, and drove 15 miles into the park for some sightseeing. The scenery was spectacular, but we were disappointed to not see any wildlife.
We camped at the park that night and then headed south Saturday morning. The mountains had a fresh coat of snow and were stunning on a day that finally saw blue sky and sun after a long stretch of cloudy, dreary days. We even got to see Mount McKinley (aka Denali) as we headed down the Parks Highway toward Anchorage.
The hope was to make it to Cooper Landing, near the confluence of the Russian and Kenai rivers, but we decided to camp about 30 miles up the road at a U.S. Forest Service campsite at Granite Creek.
Kraig had brought a little flint fire starter so, just for fun, we decided to use it with a cotton ball to start our campfire. We got a serious fire going.
This morning we got down to the Forest Service campground on the Russian River. We are probably 100 yards from the river, but we can sure smell it. And the aroma of rotting salmon isn’t good.
But those salmon are why the river also has great rainbow trout fishing. We quickly geared up and headed to the water.
When you think of Alaska you think of catching fish on every cast. But, I’m finding the fishing challenging more often than easy.
This being Sunday, the river was crowded. Not opening day of trout season crowded, but everywhere you went on the river you could see someone else upstream and downstream.
We had driven over the Kenai River and it is huge. The Russian is much smaller, with a flow similar to the James River in the spring.
Spawning sockeye salmon were everywhere, but all of the fishermen were trying to catch trout. And some were actually catching trout.
I wasn’t one of them.
The most popular way to target trout this time of year is to use beads on a fly rod. The bead, which mimics a salmon egg, is pegged a couple of inches above the hook. It is fished like a nymph, on a dead drift.
When a trout grabs the egg, the hook is set on the outside of the mouth.
After working my way upstream I finally got away from the crowds. I saw some really big trout but couldn’t get them to pay attention to my bead lures.
A kind local took pity on me and gave me a primer.
Pat Budke was taking a break while his friend, Bob Stark, fished. Pat lives in Anchorage and has been at this for years.
He took a look at the bright orange bead I had on and said, “That’s one problem. You need something paler.”
He gave me a pale pink bead. He also showed by the best way to rig it.
Bob hooked four rainbows (including a 15-incher that should be picture here, but isn’t. At least not yet) and dolly vardens as Pat and I talked.
I thanked him for his help and moved on.
I didn’t fish long, though, because it was nearing 2 p.m. and I was starving.
Cliff and Kraig, who’d caught a couple zombie salmon and a smallish rainbow downstream, were already back at the RV and told me via radio that they had a sandwich waiting for me.
On the way back I watch a guy fighting a really nice trout, which looked to be about 20 inches long when he held it up before releasing it.
“That made it worth the trip,” said the man, who said he was from Maine.
I asked what he caught it one.
“A bright orange bead,” he said. “I was using a pale pink and it wasn’t working, so I put the orange one on and hooked him on the first cast.”
Figures, doesn’t it?